Tim Wise |30 April 2013
White is right.
As the nation weeps for the victims of the horrific bombing in Boston
yesterday, one searches for lessons amid the carnage, and finds few. That
violence is unacceptable stands out as one, sure. That hatred — for
humanity, for life, or whatever else might have animated the bomber or
bombers — is never the source of constructive human action seems like a
reasonably close second.
But I dare say there is more; a much less obvious and far more
uncomfortable lesson, which many are loathe to learn, but which an event
such as this makes readily apparent, and which we must acknowledge, no
matter how painful.
It is a lesson about race, about whiteness, and specifically, about white
I know you don’t want to hear it. But I don’t much care. So here goes.
White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber turns
out to be white, his or her identity will not result in white folks
generally being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA,
or the FBI.
White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white,
no one will call for whites to be profiled as terrorists as a result,
subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation.
White privilege is knowing that if the bomber turns out to be white, he or
she will be viewed as an exception to an otherwise non-white rule, an
aberration, an anomaly, and that he or she will be able to join the ranks
of pantheon of white people who engage in (or have plotted) politically
motivated violence meant to terrorize — and specifically to kill — but
whose actions result in the assumption of absolutely nothing about white
people generally, or white Christians in particular.
Among these: Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols and Ted Kaczynski and Eric
Rudolph and Joe Stack and George Metesky and Byron De La Beckwith and Bobby
Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton and Herman Frank Cash and Robert Chambliss
and James von Brunn and Lawrence Michael Lombardi and Robert Mathews and
David Lane and Chevie Kehoe and Michael F. Griffin and Paul Hill and John
Salvi and Justin Carl Moose and Bruce and Joshua Turnidge and James Kopp
and Luke Helder and James David Adkisson and Scott Roeder and Shelley
Shannon and Dennis Mahon and Wade Michael Page and Jeffery Harbin and Byron
Williams and Charles Ray Polk and Willie Ray Lampley and Cecilia Lampley
and John Dare Baird and Joseph Martin Bailie and Ray Hamblin and Robert
Edward Starr III and William James McCranie Jr. and John Pitner and Charles
Barbee and Robert Berry and Jay Merrell and Brendon Blasz and Carl Jay
Waskom Jr. and Shawn and Catherine Adams and Edward Taylor Jr. and Todd
Vanbiber and William Robert Goehler and James Cleaver and Jack Dowell and
Bradley Playford Glover and Ken Carter and Randy Graham and Bradford
Metcalf and Chris Scott Gilliam and Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder and
Buford Furrow and Benjamin Smith and Donald Rudolph and Kevin Ray Patterson
and Charles Dennis Kiles and Donald Beauregard and Troy Diver and Mark
Wayne McCool and Leo Felton and Erica Chase and Clayton Lee Wagner and
Michael Edward Smith and David Burgert and Robert Barefoot Jr. and Sean
Gillespie and Ivan Duane Braden and Kevin Harpham and William Krar and
Judith Bruey and Edward Feltus and Raymond Kirk Dillard and Adam Lynn
Cunningham and Bonnell Hughes and Randall Garrett Cole and James Ray
McElroy and Michael Gorbey and Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman and
Frederick Thomas and Paul Ross Evans and Matt Goldsby and Jimmy Simmons and
Kathy Simmons and Kaye Wiggins and Patricia Hughes and Jeremy Dunahoe and
David McMenemy and Bobby Joe Rogers and Francis Grady and Cody Seth
Crawford and Ralph Lang and Demetrius Van Crocker and Floyd Raymond Looker
and Derek Mathew Shrout and Randolph Linn.
Ya know, just to name a few.
And white privilege is being able to know nothing about the crimes
committed by most of the terrorists listed above — indeed, never to have so
much as heard most of their names — let alone to make assumptions about the
role that their racial or ethnic identity may have played in their crimes.
White privilege is knowing that if the Boston bomber turns out to be white,
we will not be asked to denounce him or her, so as to prove our own
loyalties to the common national good. It is knowing that the next time a
cop sees one of us standing on the sidewalk cheering on runners in a
marathon, that cop will say exactly nothing to us as a result.
White privilege is knowing that if you are a white student from Nebraska —
as opposed to, say, a student from Saudi Arabia — that no one, and I mean
no one would think it important to detain and question you in the wake of a
bombing such as the one at the Boston Marathon.
And white privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white,
the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain
town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that
others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a
member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Belfast. And if he’s an
Italian American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.
In short, white privilege is the thing that allows you (if you’re white) —
and me — to view tragic events like this as merely horrific, and from the
perspective of pure and innocent victims, rather than having to wonder, and
to look over one’s shoulder, and to ask even if only in hushed tones,
whether those we pass on the street might think that somehow we were
It is the source of our unearned innocence and the cause of others’
That is all. And it matters.